The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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28 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2017 among those who tweeted during the Jan. 9 national championship game between Clemson and Alabama that he was too busy working to watch. "No time to watch when we are on the clock," he wrote below a picture of himself at the gym. Isaac will be one of a handful of run- ning backs vying for the starting job in place of departing senior De'Veon Smith. Most eyes, however, will be focused on the quarterback position, one redshirt sophomore Wilton Spei- ght surprised everyone and ran with this year on the way to a 2,538-yard, 18-touchdown season. No, he wasn't perfect, having strug- gled at times in all three of the Wol- verines' tight losses. But he was better than most thought he could be, and now he's out to prove he can be even more. "Maybe Coach Harbaugh has brain- washed me a little bit, but I still think someone is going to take my job any day," Speight said prior to the Orange Bowl, a 33-32 loss to Florida State. "I think [redshirt junior] John [O'Korn] is coming back, and he pushes me every day to be better. I know [fresh- man] Brandon [Peters] will, too, this offseason. "I want to be the best I can be, but I also want our quarterback room to be the best quarterback room in the coun- try … when I leave, whenever that is, I want the next guy up to be better than I was." Peters might be the main competi- tion. He was impressive on the scout team and has all the tools to be a great Michigan quarterback, per teammates and coaches who got a long look at him in Orange Bowl practices. O'Korn struggled in his only significant action, going 7-of-16 passing for only 59 yards in a 20-10 win over Indiana, but he'll likely return for a fifth year. The young receivers, meanwhile, also got plenty of work in December. Eddie McDoom, Kekoa Crawford and Nate Johnson all played as true freshmen, though they only caught 10 passes for 110 yards between them, led by McDoom's five for 59. Graduating seniors Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson had very good, but not standout, seasons. More was ex- pected of Chesson after his MVP cam- paign in 2015, though he still caught 35 passes for 500 yards and two scores (he also rushed for 63 yards and a score). "Eddie and Kekoa have been doing well all year — obviously, they've been making plays," Speight said. "[Red- shirt sophomore] Drake [Harris, two catches for 11 yards] has really taken this time to impress the coaches and show, yeah, it was Jehu and Amara, but he's ready. "Same with [redshirt sophomore] Moe Ways. All those guys are well aware that guys are coming in January and ready to fight for spots." Michigan's young tight ends, fresh- man Devin Asiasi and redshirt fresh- man Tyrone Wheatley Jr., are the fu- ture, even though they only caught five passes for 53 yards between them. They are advanced blockers — far be- yond even graduating senior Jake Butt, former Michigan offensive lineman and current analyst Doug Skene noted — and will be critical to U-M's success. Redshirt sophomore Ian Bunting re- turns as the leading pass catcher in the group after hauling in five passes for 46 yards last year, while sophomores Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks will also battle for playing time. Isaac is the veteran at running back — he gained 417 yards and five touch- downs last year in a backup role to Smith. Freshman Chris Evans, though, is the heir apparent after rushing for 614 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Sopho- more Karan Higdon (425 yards) and freshman Kareem Walker are expected to push him. Touchdown machine and redshirt junior Khalid Hill (13 total scores) and classmate Henry Poggi (seven starts) both return to anchor the fullback posi- tion. On the offensive line, center Mason Cole returns for his senior year after flirting a bit with the NFL — he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors — and freshman starting guard Ben Bredeson will be back, but the Wolverines will lose three starting offensive linemen. The process of filling the gaps has already started. "All the freshmen have stepped up," Bredeson said during Orange Bowl prep. "With all the extra reps every- one's focusing on, you can see who's making strides. This puts a spotlight on people and a lot of them have been thriving. "I think everyone's starting to feel it. We're all focused on the bowl game now, but the younger guys — there's definitely been more energy right now, realizing [they] have to make a push to earn some of those starting spots next year." Bredeson said he's been encouraged all year long by the play of some of his fellow younger linemen, while redshirt freshman Nolan Ulizio and Jon Run- yan, and redshirt sophomore Juwann Bushell-Beatty earned fifth-year senior Erik Magnuson's praise. Junior center Mason Cole has started 38 straight games on the offensive line and was named second-team All-Big Ten in 2016. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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